Thursday, 29 December 2011

Lego Playmat Tutorial

Lego playmat, bag
We bought our 4 year old her first lego set for Christmas. In preparation for this I decided to make a playmat/storage bag to keep the pieces from straying all over the living room (and in the process remain sane). The idea comes from a friend whose children play on a similar mat that had belonged to their father when he was a child.

Whilst they are playing most of the lego stays on the mat, so when you want to clear it up you just pull on the cord and, hey presto, one tidy living room.

Lego playmat, bag
To make the bag you will need:

A piece of sturdy material as long as it is wide
Bias binding (get the widest one you can)
30 eyelets

I used Annamoa fabric from Ikea because 1) its quite thick and sturdy, so would hold up to being crawled around on 2) at 135cm its a bit wider than dress making fabric, so my mat could be bigger and 3) I had just the right amount left over from making curtains.

Lay out your fabric, then with a string and chalk to form a giant compass draw as big a circle as possible on the fabric. Cut this out.

Pin the bias binding all around the outside sandwiching the raw edges of the mat inside and sew in place. To work out how much bias you will need multiply the width of your fabric (which is now the diameter of your circle) by π (3.14, remember that from school?) and add a bit for the overlap. It’s the same calculation for the amount of cord you need, but add a bit more to give you room to tie a knot.

Lego playmat, bag

Now place your eyelets evenly around the edge of the fabric. At the moment my mat has 15 eyelets placed about 20cm apart, but after a few days of playing I’ve come to the conclusion that we need more, so I’ve bought another pack of 15 to fill in the gaps. When you are putting the eyelets in you need a solid floor to hammer against – I ended up doing it on the patio - I found that hammering against floorboards wouldn't bend the eyelets properly.

Finally thread the cord through, tie off and play.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Advent Knitting

Phew! I’ve done it, completed a marathon knit – only just in time seeing it is an Advent tree, the last few ornaments were done the night  before they needed to be hung on the tree! There’s nothing like a deadline to get a job done.

alan dart, advent tree

This is my lovely tree, I’m very proud of it (although it is a little unstable, especially when 4 and 2 year olds try to hang the ornaments). It took a lot of willpower to keep going and finish it, I got terribly distracted by other projects. Having started in April on the tree, the ornaments were ignored until it started to get chilly and I realised Christmas was approaching fast.

I’m a sociable knitter, I like to have a chat, or at the very least watch TV whist I’m doing it. The tree bit of this pattern was the least sociable thing I have ever knitted. Short rows and fluffy wool meant absolute concentration, I felt like I had to count every single stitch. So no chatting, no TV and woe betide anyone who counted out loud in my presence!

We’ve got quiet a few knitted Christmas decorations in our house. I think it’s a great excuse for me to knit toys and not to have to give them away to stop them cluttering the house. My husband tolerates the living room being turned into a wool-fest because he knows it will all go back into the loft in a couple of weeks.

Jean Greenhowe, knitting, nativity, knitted

My first Christmas project was my knitted nativity (designed by Jean Greenhowe). Again this was finished at the last minute, I was still knitting Jesus on Christmas eve, which does seem quite appropriate.

My other knitty decorations (along with the tree) are all designed by my knitting hero Alan Dart. I adore his patterns, his attention to detail is wonderful and I love how much my work comes out looking like the pattern picture (I think the secret to this is using mattress stitch to sew them together). If you are a knitter take a look at his website, you can download pdf patterns for as little as £2.50. This year I spotted lots of press for a book called “Best in Show”, a pattern book of knitted dogs, but the newspapers obviously hadn’t seen Alan Dart’s work, because his dogs (and cats) are so much better.

I’ve just received a package of wool, so I’m off for a happy knitting session, having a go at fairisle for the first time – so watch this space for the tears and successes (hopefully more of the latter).

Merry Christmas. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Bizarre objects in children's toys

My daughter has just received a tea set from a preschool friend for Christmas, which has prompted two questions. Firstly, when did children start giving each other Christmas presents? I’m not getting on board with that trend, all the birthdays are expensive enough. Secondly, why is there more often than not an unidentifiable or slightly random object in kids play sets?

This tea set contains all the things you would expect; cups, saucers, teapot and spoons, a few more random objects; cheese knife, chopping board and a chicken thigh and (and this is the object that has me flummoxed) a PEANUT!!! What really freaks me out about this is that it’s the only life-sized object in the set; it's a giant peanut the size of a teacup. Also it’s a peanut still in its shell, what child has ever seen an uncracked peanut?

My mum has a tea set for when the grandchildren come to visit, in fact it’s a coffee set (tres chic, very French). Again this contains all the things you would expect - and a random colander.

Its not just tea sets that contain strange things, we’ve got a set of animal skittles five of which are easily identifiable as a monkey, flamingo, giraffe, elephant and a lion. The last might be a blue hippopotomus, I’m really not sure (and I've got a zoology degree). A friend (who is a professional biologist) calls it a “hippoprobably”.

My favourite random object comes from an Ikea garden playset, which my kids adore. They don’t seem to mind, but it does bother me that the rabbit seems to be either quite unwell or someone has stuck a broom up its bottom. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions as to what else this rabbit could be doing.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Christmas - Making new family traditions

We had a lovely day putting up the Christmas decorations yesterday, the kids thought watching Mummy go up into the loft to get them was exciting enough, so you can imagine how much fun actually putting the decorations up was for them.

When my husband and I bought decorations the first year we were married we tried to be coordinated, but totally failed. We decided on a colour theme, but then other things started creeping in and it started looking like quite a mishmash of ideas. When our eldest was born we realised we would have to rethink the tree as we didn’t like the idea of her pulling over the tree and sitting amongst shards of broken glass baubles. So all the breakable (and usually shiny) trinkets have remained in the loft, to be replaced with fabric and wooden (so mostly matt) ornaments. The only shine on our tree now comes from the fairy lights and a bit of tinsel which actually lends it a far more co-ordinated look, not what I was expecting when I had kids – I thought everything would get more garish.

Having kids has also made us merge 2 sets of Christmas traditions to create the ones we want our children to grow up with. For instance in my husband’s family all the presents for the children come from Santa, regardless of who bought them. So parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends got no credit (and no thank you letters). 

Christmas decorations, letter to santa
As a child we used to send our letters to Santa up the chimney by burning them on the fire. We can’t do that as our fire is gas, so I bought some beautiful felt envelopes addressed to Santa (from Great Little Trading Company) to hang on the tree. Yesterday I sat down with our 4 year old to help her write her first letter to Santa. She drew a lovely picture of him on his sleigh and wrote “Slippers” underneath as her gift request. Then we placed this in the envelope along with one that my husband had written for our 2 year old. We told her that these were Santa’s magic envelopes for receiving letters. Fortunatly we did remember to take the letters out last night, the look on her face was a picture when she thought magic had taken her letter.

My friend Rachel told me that she was letting her children choose one new decoration a year so when they leave home they’ll have 18 Christmas decorations to take with them (although with current house prices they’ll probably be moving out when they are 30 not 18). We have taken on that tradition as our own. It was lovely letting the kids loose in the Christmas decoration department and saying they could have whatever they wanted.

I have made one MASSIVE rookie parenting mistake. Because in the new year we are having a wall knocked down and a new kitchen things are in the process of being moved around in the house to make room. A lot of this stuff has been dumped in the spare bedroom (along with the hidden presents), but now I need to sort this room out for my father-in-law to stay in over Christmas. So last night I decided to wrap all the presents and store them under the tree to give me some room to sort everything else in the bedroom. BIG mistake. I now have 2 weeks of not taking my eyes off the tree for fear of early present opening. Wish me luck with that!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

A few days of CBeebies

After a couple of days with a poorly daughter cuddled up on the sofa with no energy to do anything but watch TV I have nothing else on my mind but CBeebies. As a grown-up, I am being driven slightly mad by the repetitive nature of both the programmes and the scheduling (as wonderful as Mr Tumble is I can’t cope with three viewings in one day), but for a child this repetition is important. They love joining in shouting “Mr Tumble, Mr Tum-ble” or “Octonauts, to your stations”, the repetition makes them feel part of the programme rather than passively watching it. Of course the repetitive nature of the scheduling is because you aren’t supposed to sit there all day watching CBeebies, so they repeat the same programme several times a day.

I do love CBeebies, there are very few dud programmes (naming no names, oh alright, Small Potatoes) and there are several that I would happily watch without the excuse of having children (Octonauts and Charlie & Lola). Plus there are no adverts. We are so lucky to have an institution like the BBC, when I took my daughter to the cinema the other day she was actually puzzled by the adverts before the film, because we only watch CBeebies she hadn’t seen any before!

Octonauts is a favourite in this household (and many of our friend’s too). We even had an Octonauts themed birthday party this year. If you don’t have small children I do urge you to have a look on the BBC iPlayer (sorry non-UK people) and watch an episode. Imagine Thunderbirds, replacing the puppets with a Manga-ish polar bear, penguin and pirate cat (and a few supporting cast members) who “explore, rescue, protect” from their underwater base. Instead of Thunderbird 1, 2 & 3 they have their submarines the GUP-A to GUP-E (I have heard that the Christmas episode will feature the GUP-X).

The thing that makes Octonauts stand out from the rest has to be the “scientific advisor” credits. The animals the Octonauts encounter exhibit real behaviours; they don’t shy away from explaining that sharks have a lateral line or that there is a difference between jellyfish and comb jellies. Facts I learnt at University packaged for preschoolers. As my other half was influenced in his career choice by the moon landing when he was small will all the marine biology degree courses be over-subscribed in 15 years time?

Between writing the previous paragraphs and posting this I succumbed to my daughters bug and was forced to lie in bed watching daytime TV. Do you know what I did? I watched Octonauts all on my own!
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